FRIDAY, June 10 (HealthDay News) -- People seem to base their opinion of a psychotherapist's abilities on the appearance of their office, research suggests.

The study included 242 college students who were shown photographs of offices belonging to actual psychotherapists in Manhattan. After viewing the photos, the participants gave higher marks for quality and qualifications to psychotherapists whose offices were neat and orderly, featured personal elements such as framed photos and diplomas, and were decorated with soft items such as pillows and throw rugs.

There were no differences in results between people who had seen a therapist and those who hadn't, men and women, people of different ages, or people from small towns or large cities. This suggests that the findings apply across the general population, the Ohio State University researchers said.

"People seem to agree on what the office of a good therapist would look like and, especially, what it wouldn't look like," study co-author Jack Nasar, a professor of city and regional planning, said in a university news release.

"Whether it is through cultural learning or something else, people think they can judge therapists just based on their office environment," he added.

"The top-rated offices also pointed to the importance of softness and order," Nasar said. "For the top five offices, participants most frequently described the office as comfortable, nice, clean, warm and inviting." The words used to describe the offices at the bottom of the rating scale were "cluttered," "cramped," "messy," "uncomfortable" and "unprofessional," he noted.

"These results suggest that someone visiting a therapist in a low-rated office for the first time may not want to come back," he explained. "I would tell therapists to keep their offices soft and friendly looking. Put up your diplomas and personalize the office. Arrange everything in a neat and orderly way and keep it that way."

The study was released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology.

More information

McGill University has more about psychotherapy.